Blogger Eden Riley speaks with a volunteer midwife in Niger. Photo by Adel Sarkozi, World Vision
Next week, I’ll be in Uganda visiting a range of World Vision projects with two of our Blog Ambassadors*, Emma and Eden. Trips like these are really important for a number of reasons – including sharing the stories of those we meet and the work we do from an independent perspective.
With the growing interest in global tourism and social justice, there is also debate around the role of development tourism. Does it bolster an economy? Does it disempower communities? Can it be done in a way that raises awareness and builds a genuine connection with the community? To better understand this discussion, it is important to distinguish between the types of trips that might take place.
One school of thought is that there are 3 types of development tourism; educational, tourism/leisure and volunteerism. There are of course different thoughts about each of these and the inevitable grey areas that emerge between them.
The trips that we run fall under education. We take visitors to see our work in different areas, showing them how we partner with communities, local governments and other aid organisations to provide long term development. That covers a wide range of areas from education, healthcare, psychosocial support and more to give communities a hand up, not a hand out.
For our blog ambassador trips we encourage writing about the experience in whatever way resonates with that individual. We do not have an approval process for them – we want to empower others to tell their story, and the stories of the communities they meet, who are unlikely to have the resources to tell you themselves.
These trips are a kind of marketing activity, sharing authentic first hand stories through audiences that we wouldn’t otherwise reach, and in a marketing or media buying sense is an inexpensive (and rewarding) activity. We are very mindful that any activity should support communities by sharing their stories in an empowering way.
For context, let’s look at the other two variations.
The tourism trips tend to sit more in the realm of perhaps voyeuristic approach creating a tourist destination out of the community within a developing country. The argument for this is to educate, but often these trips are run by for profit tourist organisations. The intent is not to assist, or to engage with these communities, but merely to spectate and document. One of the many criticisms is of course that this removes the dignity of the community in front of the lens.
Volunteer/voluntourism trips are becoming more popular and involve volunteers spending their holiday time assisting the organisation execute various tasks. The intent of this type of trip is to give back and while of course this is more often than not done with good intent, sometimes volunteers are paired with tasks they don’t have the skills to do well – which can create more issues than they solve.
There have been tales of well-meaning people with no building experience building homes in developing countries, only to find the locals come out at night and ‘fix up’ any mistakes that might have been created during the day. Of course not all volunteerism organisations are poverty alleviation focussed – and there are quite different cultural immersion variations.
There is no one size fits all approach about long term development, let alone how that might intersect with development tourism, so we certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. We do believe that a well-designed trip to educate the supporter, empower them to tell the stories of those they meet, and to connect and empower the communities we visit is invaluable.
*We do not pay any of our amazing blog ambassadors. They give generously of their time, energy, skills and readership because they believe in the power of social good, and in the work we do. We are truly thankful to each and every one of them for their inspiring and ongoing support.